I’m trying to do my first recording of my well-used upright piano with a new, inexpensive Fifine condenser microphone. I just registered for Audacity today and am a complete beginner. My (attached) audio recording sounds bad, and I need suggestions to make it sound better.
Setup: My piano is in my 9’ x 12’ study with wood floors, no rug, and no drapes, and little soft material to dampen the echo. My microphone is on a 4-inch stand sitting on top of the piano. I can make modest adjustments to the setup, but it’s probably going to have to be recorded in this room.
If someone can tell from listening to the recording what adjustments are most likely to help, I’d greatly appreciate it. Should I try opening the top of the piano and dropping the mic inside? Should I bring in some blankets or soft materials in the room to soften the echo? What specific adjustments in the Audacity program are most likely to help?
See all those red marks? That’s all the places your sound got so loud, the microphone stopped accurately following the notes. That’s those crunchy, fuzzy tones. That’s overload or “clipping”.
That distortion is permanent.
So you have to record at a lower volume. Record so your blue wave tips go up to about half to 3/4. Not any higher. If you can see the bouncing sound meter, you can get loud so the meter just starts to turn yellow.
The microphone is directional and you should be performing into the side grill just above the volume control.
I didn’t understand the clipping issue, that’s really helpful to know. I thought my piano top opened up, but now I see it’s really not designed to do that while maintaining the part that holds the music in place. Do I record at a lower volume by manually turning the volume knob down on the microphone, by playing the piano more softly, or adjusting something in Audacity? Also, do you detect an echo issue that I might resolve by putting noise absorption materials (e.g., a rug, etc.) in the room, or is that not really an issue?
Do I record at a lower volume by manually turning the volume knob down on the microphone
That’s my guess. Try it. Consult your instructions. It’s possible you can’t adjust Audacity because it goes into fixed gain with a USB device. There might be settings in Windows. I’m not a Windows elf.
little soft material to dampen the echo.
In short, the worst recording environment on earth.
I know people who will refuse to try a recording in spaces like that. You have an automatic strike two because your instrument will not fit into a small, made-up studio as you would use for your voice.
Every time you add sound absorbing material to the room, the sound quality will go up. Start with rugs. You can get cast-offs and samples from the dumpster behind carpeting companies.
You can simulate soundproofing on the walls with cardboard (not plastic) egg crates. Nobody wrote you can’t put carpet on the walls. I’ve done that.
And work up. Anything you add to the room will be better than what you had before.
There are some shortcuts. Soundproof opposing walls. Floor or Ceiling, East Wall or West Wall, etc. Then fill in later, the goal is to eventually soundproof everything.
You can make a studio out of hardware store plastic pipes and furniture moving pads. This was a voice shoot. I made those wooden pieces, but you can use Hardware Store plastic pipes.
Yes. Try opening the top, try opening the bottom, try opening the top and bottom, try positioning the mic close to the sound board, try everything.
Different pianos react very differently and you are likely to notice substantial differences in sound as you try different things. You may find some sounds that are very different to what you are accustomed to hearing from that piano, but if you find a sound that you like that suits the music, then don’t be afraid to use it.
Personally I prefer to use at least two mics on an upright piano because of the size of the sound source. I think the most mics that I’ve used on an upright at one time is 9, and all of them were contributing to the sound. At the other extreme I’ve recorded plenty of pianos with just a single mic (out of necessity) but it can be very difficult to get a well balanced sound from a single mic. When equipment is limited, an inexpensive dynamic microphone close to the sound board can help to fill out the bass end while you use a better mic to pickup more detail at the higher end.
The closer the mics are to the sound source, the less they are affected by the room. This is useful if the room is acoustically less than ideal. A common technique is to open the top and suspend two mics above the opening.
If the pedals are not being used, a single mic below the keyboard, with the bottom of the piano open, about 40 cm above floor level, pointing up and back towards the strings can work pretty well, but pedal noise can be overwhelming if used.
Another common “trick”, which may sound surprising good for the simplicity, or totally awful, is to rap thick padding around the base of a mic, just leaving the head sticking out, then half open the top of the piano and place the head of the mic into the opening, a little right of center, trapping the microphone into position with the weight of the lid on the padding. It is important that the mic itself does not come into direct contact with the piano or it is likely to pick up a lot of “knocking” sounds.
Having listened to your sample clip, by far the biggest problem there is, as Koz commented in his first reply, clipping.
Reduce the signal level a little to avoid clipping will instantly make a huge improvement to the sound quality.